Saturday, 17 November 2012

Price-rigging and the struggle for survival

Major utility companies in Britain have recently been implicated, thanks to the bravery of whistleblowers, of manipulating trading information relating to the cost of gas and electricity supplies, and therefore their profits through increased prices for consumers. The architect of neoliberal utilities privatisation was Margaret Thatcher's Chancellor to the Exchequer Nigel Lawson, who has since become known, perhaps not coincidentally, as a leading denier of climate change caused by fossil fuel emissions.

Energy Secretary Ed Davey has promised "punitive" fines on the corporations for this wrongdoing. But it may as well be regarded as marginal, given the multi-billions of capital and assets held by them. Earlier this year, many energy companies announced an increase in fuel prices. British Gas and Scottish Gas recently announced £2.4 billion of profits thanks to these price hikes (adding to the £22.8 billion of profits accumulated by their owners Centrica), while SSE announced a 38% increase in profits to £397.5 million. All of the price increases are seemingly well-timed for the winter season, by the utility companies who insist on them being a necessity despite their massive profits (and who, as we now know, used illegally deceptive information to excuse them).

The outrage over this profiteering is warranted. Households in need of these basic necessities are essentially being extorted and indentured en masse. But most important is the statistic of its human cost: 27,000. As much as 27,000 people, every year in Britain, die from by fuel poverty driven by the punitive for-profit price hikes of utility corporations, for the benefit of their FTSE 100 shareholders. Fewer were killed in some of Nazi Germany's Action T4 euthanasia facilities. The majority of those who die are elderly people over the age of 70, who most struggle to survive in their fragility. The deaths are often the result of both starvation and hypothermia, given that in my cases elderly people are forced to choose between "heating or eating". The expense of fuel makes it impossible for them afford adequate nutrition simultaneously. The fatality of profit-driven fuel poverty is not limited to the elderly however: it is, along with government welfare cuts, forcing children to live without adequate nutrition or winter clothing according to Save the Children. How young may some of the 27,000 a year killed by fuel poverty be?

Given that these corporations are complicit to this mass deprivation, harm and endangerment to human life, and are being proven to have lied to justify soaring utility prices in the interests of shareholder profits, they can therefore be implicated in engaging in self-serving systematic manslaughter on a yearly basis.

The solution to this atrocity is the nationalisation of all public utilities, and the reinvestment of their profits to make prices as equatable as possible and to abolish fuel poverty, and the assure the sustainable and insulated fuel efficiency of homes, rather than subsidise the wealth accumulation of capital shareholders, and the pay and bonuses of corporate utility executives.

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